Han van Krieken: ‘Distributing part of the research grants is not a radical idea’

Extremely high work pressure and a small chance of getting research funding – these problems are still the order of the day at the university. Is the new government financing the solution? And what is the university planning itself? Rector Han van Krieken explains.

A scientist who does not like to write research proposals? Rector of Radboud University Han van Krieken can not imagine anything. ‘It’s a puzzle: how do I solve this question and what have others already done? That would surprise me, scientists who do not like it. ‘ But, says the principal, it must be a proposal that the scientist is really interested in. And there must be a reasonable chance of actually getting the money.

That’s where it’s going wrong in the current system, he believes. “We come from a time when we really expected everyone to apply for grants. We have to get rid of that ‘. Van Krieken sees something in the solution recently proposed by NWO chief Marcel Levi. If universities want to reduce the workload and application pressure, Levi said in May, they can choose to send only the best research to the NWO.

Internal choice

According to Van Krieken, the Nijmegen Vidi policy shows that it can work well to submit fewer applications. ‘We had a success rate of between 10 and 15 percent. At one point we said: Everyone who has enough qualifications to apply for a Vidi scholarship will already get a permanent job during the application. Therefore, we have looked much more closely at who could apply for such a grant and when. The result: We submitted fewer applications, but the number of approved applications actually increased. So my call is that we as universities need to think much more carefully about who is applying for a grant and when. ‘

‘I do not want to organize an internal competition, but make decisions in connection with career guidance’

The question is how this committee should take shape. If the university arranges internal competition rounds to decide which proposals are suitable for the NWO, the application pressure is simply shifted. Van Krieken is therefore not in favor of internal competition. ‘I would make these decisions in the context of career guidance. One has to look at the individual development perspective: For whom does it pay to submit an application in 2023? ‘

Concrete plans on how and what of this selection are still being made. ‘It’s part of the plan we’re making for Recognition and Appreciation, which we hope will be completed in September.’

Security

Van Krieken does not expect that internal selection will be sufficient to reduce the application and workload. “Our Vidi policy worked, but it is not enough,” he says. “What will be more successful in the short term is that we can start allocating starters and incentive grants (with the new funding from the Cabinet, ed.). We also argued for this: A university lecturer who is hired will generally receive a starter scholarship. Yes, I’m happy about that. We can solve some of the problems that we all experience together. ‘

What else is on the agenda to reduce work pressure? According to Van Krieken, it is especially important that young people get the security they deserve at the beginning of their careers. ‘So more permanent jobs. We are already working on that and we must continue, I think that is very important. ‘

lottery tickets

There is also a role for NWO, Van Krieken believes. ‘Grant applications sometimes have to be forty pages long. I once said to Marcel Levi that one must make sure that those applications are really about the core of the research. A very concrete example: All researchers must write a section on diversity in their proposals. Of course it is important, we can all agree on that. But one can also say: Let the universities take care of it, because a researcher cannot do much for that alone. It saves another section. ‘

‘The lot is not far from the daily practice of some of the applications’

The Rector also sees something in the proposal to change the system more drastically and to distribute research funds from now on. That idea has been floating around for years. Some researchers argue that it is not possible to distinguish objectively between research proposals, which in principle are all at a high level. The lot would be fairer according to them.

“I was twice on the Scientific Council for Cancer Research, KWF,” says Van Krieken. “In fact, everyone on such a jury always thinks that a certain percentage of the proposals belong to the absolute top, that another percentage is really not good, and that the differences on the other proposals are not that big at all. I can well imagine you saying: we draw lots in that middle category. ‘ It is not such a radical idea, says Van Krieken. ‘I do not think lottery tickets are far away from daily practice.’

This only applies to some of the applications, he emphasizes. That is why we must never completely abolish competition, he says. ‘I do not want to remove the NWO from the system, which has ensured that Dutch research is of high quality. If you let go of that competition, the quality can be diluted.

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